Thursday, March 29, 2012

What War Really Is

Freedom Betrayed, by Herbert Hoover

Hoover asks the question, “Shall we send our youth to war?” in an article prepared for the August, 1939 issue of the American Magazine, he writes:

First, let me say something from this experience of what war really is. Those who lived in it, and our American boys who fought in it, dislike to recall its terribleness. We dwell upon its glories – the courage, the heroism, the greatness of spirit in men. I myself should like to forget all else….Amid the afterglow of glory and legend we forget the filth, the stench, the death, of the trenches. We forget the dumb grief of mothers, wives, and children.

War is hell. We are told this whenever we mention the atrocities committed, as if this pithy little phrase justifies the tragedy. Hoover here sees that war IS hell, however he sees this as reason to avoid entering in every way possible.

There is a scene in the movie “The Americanization of Emily.” This movie stars James Garner as Charlie Madison, an American officer in England during WWII, and Julie Andrews as Emily Barham, a British war widow – also having lost other family members to war.

The scene has Charlie Madison visiting the home of Mrs. Barham, Emily’s mother. Mrs. Barham is in great denial regarding the many deaths that war has brought to her family – her husband and son among others. She still acts as if her husband is alive, and Emily goes along with this denial.

When Mrs. Barham exclaims that after the war, it will be all the generals and statesmen writing books saying how it could have been avoided, Charlie explains that he doesn’t blame the generals and statesmen. He blames the mothers! The mothers make heroes out of their dead sons; they are the first to walk in the parade. Charlie explains that his own mother did this regarding Charlie’s brother. And now Charlie’s youngest brother can’t wait to enlist.

The clip is about ten minutes long, and I highly recommend spending the time. It can be found here:

In describing those who fought in the trenches in the First World War, Hoover writes:

Theirs was an inspiring heroism for all time. But how much greater a world it would be today if that heroism and character could have lived.

Some people (tragically too few) count the cost of war. Cost in lives, cost in injuries both physical and mental, cost to the family, cost in wealth destroyed. But what of the cost of the unseen? We are regularly told that those who go overseas to fight the wars are the best and the brightest of America’s youth. If so, what of the cost of what those same youth are NOT producing while fighting overseas – or worse, if they are killed or permanently injured?

In words that are as applicable today as when Hoover wrote them, he writes (regarding the First World War):

It has cost us 40 billions of dollars. And that represents more than just dollars. Today we have a quarter to a third of the American people below a decent standard of living. If that 40 billions of wealth had remained in America, these people would not be in this plight.

Forty billion dollars spent during WWI is the equivalent of something over $500 billion today. Estimates range regarding the costs of US wars over the last decade – somewhere between $1 trillion and $4 trillion. Over 15% of Americans live in poverty. Again, 15% receive food stamps. Official unemployment is reported at approximately 9%, but according to John Williams at Shadowstats is actually above 20%. Inflation, officially reported at approximately 3% is reported by Shadowstats at approximately 6%. To paraphrase Hoover, if those trillions of wealth had remained in America, these people would not be in this plight.

Hoover goes into self-examination regarding his support for America entering the WWI:

…I reluctantly joined in the almost unanimous view of our countrymen that America must go into that war. We had been directly attacked…I believed that with our singleness of purpose we could impose an enlightened peace; that we could make it a war to end war. I believed we could make the world safe for the spread of human liberty. If experience has any value to nations, there are in the wrecking of those hopes a thousand reasons why we should never attempt it again….

Several things strike me about these paragraphs. First, that Hoover believes the US was innocent in being attacked as provocation to enter the war. From Wikipedia:

Unknown to her passengers but probably no secret to the Germans, almost all her hidden cargo consisted of munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort. Lusitania departed Pier 54 in New York on 1 May 1915. The German Embassy in Washington had issued this warning on 22 April 1915.[41]


Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

Imperial German Embassy

Washington, D.C. 22nd April 1915

This warning was printed adjacent to an advertisement for Lusitania's return voyage. The warning led to some agitation in the press and worried the ship's passengers and crew.

Second, that Hoover naïvely and arrogantly believed that somehow his was the generation that could do what was never done before: win everlasting peace by fighting the next war.

Third, as discussed by Charlie Madison in the abovementioned video clip, it is the statesmen (in this case Hoover) who always write afterwards about what a mistake it was to go into the war that they previously advocated entering.

Finally, at least one can say Hoover has seen a glimpse of the light. From his past arrogance and blunders, he has concluded that a little humility and caution is in order.

Afghanistan and Iraq were not the first wars entered into by the US government on shifting and ever-changing causes and justifications.

And right before our eyes the game shifts. We were originally going to quarantine dictators and again save democracy. Today we have two or three dictators on our team….

…we can hold the light of liberty alight on this continent. That is the greatest service we can give to civilization…

Wonderful counsel given by Hoover in this 1939 article. It is unfortunate that this was not followed. Hitler and Stalin could have had a great time pummeling each other. It is more unfortunate that Hoover did not come to this view prior to the US entering WWI. Absent the involvement of the US, the next thirty years would likely have been far different in Europe. Different for the better, as events could not have transpired any worse.


  1. What a great movie clip. Thx for sharing that! I wonder how this scene was received at the time.
    G. Keith Smith, M.D.
    Oklahoma City

  2. This clip is the highlight of the movie (for me, at least). In the end, Charlie goes along with military propaganda, maintaining himself as a hero during the D-day landing (when in fact he did not want to participate and during the landing was turning the other way when forced by gunpoint to proceed in the attack) for the benefit of Navy publicity.

    Better explained at Wikipedia:

    “Despite his best efforts to avoid the duty Madison and his gung-ho friend, LCDR "Bus" Cummings (James Coburn), find themselves and a film crew with the combat engineers who will be the first on shore. When Madison tries to retreat to safety, Cummings forces him forward with a pistol. A German shell lands near Madison, making him the first American to die on Omaha Beach. Hundreds of newspaper and magazine covers reprint a photograph of Madison on the shore, making him a martyr. Jessup, having recovered from his breakdown, regrets his part in Madison's death but plans to use it in support of the Navy when testifying before a Senate committee in Washington. Losing another man she loves to the war devastates Emily.

    “Then comes unexpected news: Madison is not dead, but alive and well in an English hospital. A relieved Jessup now plans to show him during the Senate testimony as the heroic "first man on Omaha Beach." Madison, angry about his senseless near-death, uncharacteristically plans to act nobly by telling the world the truth of what happened on the beach, even if it means being imprisoned for cowardice. Emily convinces him to instead choose happiness with her by keeping quiet and accepting his heroic role.”